When Branford Marsalis performed at Overture Center in February, he got wind of the Fountain, a live-music venue across the street that's reinvigorating the city's jazz scene. After rehearsal, he stopped in to check it out, pronouncing the back bar a "cool little space."
Darren Sterud, a 27-year-old professional trombonist, was bartending that day.
"I shook his hand, and I said, 'I've met both of your brothers,'" he says. Sterud frequently plays in New Orleans, where he's hobnobbed with Marsalis' siblings, trombonist Delfeayo and trumpeter Wynton. When he went to Branford's show that night, he got to meet the celebrated saxophonist's band.
Marsalis didn't know it, but Sterud is responsible for much of the recent buzz about the Fountain. He's a jazz musician with talent to spare, and apparently energy as well. When he's not onstage with Mama Digdown's Brass Band or the Jimmys, or teaching jazz and drumline at his alma mater, La Follette High School, he books shows at the Fountain and even mixes drinks.
Every Wednesday, he joins organist Mike Cammilleri and drummer Scott Beardsley at the Fountain for Hammond Organ Night. Organ jazz with a dose of funk and fusion, it's a perfect match for Sterud's trombone pyrotechnics. Many a night, after lulling the crowd with velvety-soft tones and fluid phrasing in the lower registers, Sterud kicks into gear. Lightning-fast runs and crisp percussive highs turn heads and rivet attention. It's the kind of stuff that makes a casual listener wonder, "Whoa, who is this guy?"
Sterud credits owner Harold Langhammer and bar manager Craig Spaulding with helping to bring attention to jazz in Madison by bringing good music into the Fountain, including UW professor Johannes Wallmann's showcase on Saturday nights.
To get the word out, Sterud organizes new events that appeal to a variety of audiences. February saw the debut of his brainchild, the Fountain Big Band, a free, monthly Sunday concert featuring 18 to 20 local professionals. A recent edition was packed, with people sitting outside the door to listen to works by Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Sterud has another idea cooking, too: a tribute to traditional, Preservation Hall-style jazz, to take place on the fourth Thursday of each month. Members of Mama Digdown's, the Jimmys and the Youngblood Brass Band will perform. That event, also free, will debut this summer.
Fountain Big Band
Fountain, Sunday, June 23, 5:30 pm
Fountain, Saturdays, 8 pm
Scott & Mike's Hammond Organ Nite Band
Fountain, Wednesdays, 8 pm